Local officials voice support for fire department proposal to upgrade emergency care
The Grafton Fire Department’s plan to establish a paramedic program received a positive reception from local officials Monday.
During a public informational meeting before the Village Board, Fire Chief William Rice said the proposed change, which would upgrade the current emergency medical technician service from an intermediate level to paramedic status, is needed to provide advanced care to the community.
“It’s not going to be easy. It will be a challenge, but this can and will save lives,” Rice said.
The department currently provides EMT care through its ambulance service. Although the department has five members trained and licensed as paramedics, they cannot administer that service on fire and emergency medical calls because Grafton doesn’t have an approved paramedic program, Rice said.
Under the current system, emergency calls are directed to a county system that determines if paramedic service is needed. When Grafton requires a paramedic, one is dispatched from the Thiensville or Port Washington fire departments, which both have the service.
“Our rapport with Thiensville and Port is tremendous, but the response can be too slow,” Rice said. “We want to provide this on our own.”
Rice presented the results of a feasibility study that he said indicated 200 patients, or nearly one-quarter, of the Grafton department’s 827 responses to 911 calls in the past year would likely have benefited from paramedic care.
Ongoing residential expansion in Grafton, including senior housing projects, underscores a growing need for paramedic service, Rice said.
“We’ve moved beyond transporting patients to the hospital without caring for them,” he said. “We need to treat them right away before we move them.”
The cost of upgrading EMT care to paramedic service would have a minimal impact on the department, according to Rice. The study estimated training costs at $17,880 and the total operational expenses at $31,500, which includes $20,000 for increased pay for EMTs when they complete their training.
Offsetting the costs will be patient fees for paramedic service and reimbursements for much of the equipment expenses, Rice said. There would be more revenue for the local department because it would no longer have to share fees with departments that provide paramedic service, he added.
The Grafton department already has much of the equipment needed for the upgrade and will save money through a partnership with Aurora Medical Center in Grafton, Rice said. Aurora physician Steven Zils would serve as medical director of the department’s paramedic program.
“There has already been a great partnership with Aurora,” Rice said. “Our training costs are low due to our association with Aurora.”
Zils voiced support for the paramedic service plan, which he said would complement Aurora’s service mission.
“We definitely support the Grafton Fire Department upgrading to paramedic service,” Zils said. “I think it’s a great thing.”
Rice said plans call for the department to initially have eight paramedics on staff, with the potential for more during a two-year period of developing the service.
Although the Village Board took no action on the proposal, several members said paramedic service would be a valuable service to Grafton residents.
“This is a quality-of-life issue,” Trustee Jim Grant said. “It’s not saying that the fire department did something wrong in the past, but I firmly believe this is important to the people of Grafton.”
Village President Jim Brunnquell said he has been a long-time supporter of the plan.
“When we hired a full-time chief, one of the first things I expressed to him was the importance of getting this program going,” Brunnquell said.
“It’s up to us as a village to provide the best care possible.”
The paramedic proposal was referred to the village’s Public Safety Commission for further review. The commission’s recommendation will then go to the Village Board for final consideration.